Guilty Pleasures

Gareth L Powell @ 09-09-2010

Escapism gets a lot of bad press. Some mainstream critics use it as a derogatory term when dismissing genre literature; some serious genre writers go to great lengths to  prove that their books are more than “simple” escapism. However, escapism has its place.

Part of the reason we read science fiction is to be transported into new imaginative realms, and this is especially true in cinema. After a hard day of work, what better way to unwind than with an hour and a half of relatively mindless spectacle?

As we’re bombarded with doom-laden news reports and press anxiety over terrorism, global disaster, and societal collapse, films such as Cloverfield, Independence Day, and 28 Days Later provide us with a cathartic release. They enable us to explore our fears in a secure context. While watching the film, we can wonder “what would I do?”, and take reassurance from the fact that the protagonists and their families survive whatever disaster has befallen the world.

And then again, sometimes we just want to see a fleet of spaceships blow the living hell out of famous American landmarks.

In the 1950s, they called these films “B-movies”, and they primarily dealt with society’s fears concerning radiation (The Amazing Colossal Man), nuclear war (The Day The Earth Stood Still) and communism (Invasion of The Body Snatchers). Their modern counterparts, the Hollywood ‘blockbusters’, address our modern concerns in a similar way: with the focus primarily on entertainment.

Yes, they’re sensational and yes they’re frequently implausible; but they have their place. Gritty realism cannot transport us from the day-to-day world. When I’ve been writing all day and I need something to take my mind off the plot for a couple of hours, I don’t want a film I’m going to have to concentrate on, or one that reminds me how grim the real world can be. Instead, I’d rather sit down with a bowl of popcorn to watch Armageddon, Back To The Future, or Aliens.

Do you have films you revisit over and over again? What are your guilty viewing pleasures? Please feel free to share your recommendations in the comments section below.

Gareth L Powell is the author of the novels The Recollection and Silversands, and the short story collection The Last Reef. He is also a regular contributor to Interzone and can be found online at